Super Bowl 53 Preview: What to know and expect from the 2018-2019 season championship game


Photo courtesy of Barry Wilner AP Pro Football Writer

Finally, after four weeks of preseason games, 17 weeks of regular season games and three weeks of playoff games, the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots will face off in Super Bowl 53. On Feb. 4, 2019, the Rams and Patriots will compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy in Atlanta, Georgia. As you watch the two teams fight their way to the top, you should pay attention to these things.

Brady’s and Goff’s favorite receivers

Tom Brady, the Patriots’ quarterback, and Jared Goff, the Rams’ quarterback, both put up impressive numbers this season. However, without their most targeted receivers, these elite quarterbacks may not have made it to the Super Bowl.
For the past 10 years, wide receiver Julian Edelman has significantly helped Tom Brady in the playoffs. In only playoff games alone, Edelman has 105 receptions for 1271 receiving yards. This playoff season, Edelman averaged a career high 15.4 yards-per-catch and 123 yards-per-game. Edelman will most likely be matched up with the Rams’ best cornerback, Marcus Peters, during the Super Bowl. The Rams had the third best defense in the National Football League this season, but covering Edelman will be extremely difficult for their secondary.
Meanwhile, on the Rams, Goff constistently targeted his two star receivers, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, to make it to the Super Bowl. Cooks accumulated a career high 1,204 receiving yards this regular season. Just one year ago, he was competing in the Super Bowl as a Patriot. Woods also had an outstanding season with a career high 86 catches for 1,219 receiving yards. The elite receiving duo may be the Rams’ key to beating the Patriots’ inconsistent defense.

Will this be Gronk’s last game?

During his prime, Robert Gronkowski was considered the best tight end in the NFL. At 6-foot-6, weighing 269 pounds, Gronk dominated jump balls, broke tackles and stiff armed defenders. He became the first tight end in NFL history to lead the league in receiving touchdowns and helped the Patriots beat the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl 49.
However, for the past few years, Gronk suffered several ankle injuries. Out of the past five seasons, Gronk has been completely healthy for only two of them. Now, at 29 years old, Gronk may be reaching the end of his career, and even hinted it in a tweet.

While Gronk performed fairly well this season, he played nowhere near as well as he had in his prime. This season, Gronk only caught 47 throws for 682 receiving yards, whereas in 2011, he had 90 catches for 1,327 receiving yards. He also tied his career low of three receiving touchdowns—14 fewer touchdowns than his 2012 season.
Despite his below average season, he will still be an offensive threat for the Rams’ defense. Be sure to watch Gronk’s match ups, especially his blocking. Because of his size, he plays an important role in run blocks for Sony Michel, the Patriots’ rookie running back.

Gurly + Anderson = unstoppable run game

With 1,251 rushing yards in 256 attempts, Todd Gurley, the Rams running back, is arguably the best running back in the league. He led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns and did not fumble the entire season. When Gurley suffered a knee injury against the Dallas Cowboys in the Divisional Round, Rams fans feared that they lost their running game. Instead, the Rams reintroduced a veteran running back who dominated the Cowboys: C.J. Anderson.
After the Denver Broncos released Anderson at the end of the 2017-2018 season, he signed with the Carolina Panthers and Oakland Raiders before getting picked up by the Los Angeles Rams towards the end of the 2018-2019 season.
In the Divisional Round game against the Cowboys, the Rams became the first postseason team in NFL history to have two running backs rush over 100 yards in the same game. Together, Gurly and Anderson combined for 238 rushing yards with three rushing touchdowns, helping the Rams beat the Cowboys 30-22.
Gurley currently denies any knee injuries, but Matt LaFleur, the Rams’ offensive coordinator, will likely split the snaps between the two running backs in the Super Bowl. Gurley is clearly still a much stronger and reliable running back than Anderson, but it will still be interesting to see Gurley split carries with the Super Bowl 50 champion himself.

The Patriots’ offensive line is under more pressure than ever

Imagine you are the center for the New England Patriots. As you lower your hip to embrace the four man rush, you look to your left and see Aaron Donald, the best defensive tackle in the league. Then you look to your right and see 6-foot-4, 313 pound Ndamukong Suh, a veteran defensive tackle. Up the middle, defensive ends Morgan Fox and John Franklin-Myers wait for a gap to hunt down Brady. The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, so the Patriots’ offensive linemen need to hold their blocks to protect Brady’s pocket for the offense to even have a chance at scoring.
This season, the Rams’ defensive line played like the 1960’s Rams’ Fearsome Foursome. Donald lead the NFL with 20.5 sacks—more sacks than Kyle Van Noy and Devin McCourty, the two best Patriot defensive linemen, combined. Suh had four pass defenses, nearly five sacks, and 23 assists. The Rams’ defense racked up an impressive 13 forced fumbles and 41 sacks.
To protect against the Rams’ elite defense, the Patriots are more reliant on their offensive line than ever. Fortunately for the Patriots, their postseason offensive line is the strongest it has ever been. The offensive line has not given up a sack since the Week 17 game against the New York Jets and has secured a consistent, fortified pocket. Again, the Rams have the best defensive line in the league, so each block will be crucial to the Patriots’ offense.

Biggest age gaps in Super Bowl history

Back in 2002, Tom Brady led the Patriots to his first Super Bowl win. Now, 17 years later, Brady will be fighting for his sixth ring against Jared Goff, who was only seven years old when Brady won his first Super Bowl.
The Patriots have made it to the Super Bowl for the past three years, and each year, Brady replaced himself as the oldest quarterback in NFL history to ever have played in a Super Bowl. At 41 years old, Brady seems to be nearing the end of his career, but 24 year old Goff seems to be just starting his. This 17-year age gap between Brady and Goff is the largest age gap between two starting quarterbacks in the Super Bowl. Since Goff is younger, he will be more mobile and elusive than Brady. However, Brady has much more football experience, especially in high pressure games like the Super Bowl. While this is Goff’s first Super Bowl, it will be Brady’s ninth, and could be his sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Not only is there a huge age gap between the quarterbacks, but the head coaches also have a record breaking age gap. 66-year-old Bill Belichick, the Patriots’ head coach, is twice as old as Sean McVay, the Rams’ head coach. Coach McVay is so young that he actually competed against Julian Edelman in college football. Both head coaches have an incredible bond with their quarterbacks: Coach Belichick helped Brady earn his five rings; Coach McVay turned Goff from a backup quarterback to a potential Super Bowl MVP.
As you watch Super Bowl 53, it is important to be aware of these factors that heavily influence the outcome of the game. Both the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams had incredible seasons with extremely talented players and coaches. The Super Bowl starts on Feb. 4 at 7:30 a.m., and if you do not have NFL Game Pass, you can stream the game here.